The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9 million Americans' identities are stolen each year. Lacher McDonald CPAs has seen more cases of identity theft in the past 30 days than the firm did in all of 2011. These people did not lose their wallet, have their purse stolen, or respond to a phishing e-mail scam. They have no idea what put them in a position to have their identity stolen.
In three cases, tax returns were filed using their social security numbers prior to the real return being filed. The IRS is not able to provide much information and the victims end up waiting several months and jumping through many hoops for their refund rather than waiting the typical few weeks.
Minimize your risk of identity theft with these tips:
- Protect your social security number. Don’t carry it in your wallet, and do not write it on a check—if you still have it printed on your checks, run to the bank and get new checks. Question retailers and doctors’ offices that request it. Ask them what happens if you don’t provide it. Most times they are asking out of habit and it’s not required.
- Take care of your mail and trash. Shred your credit card statements, receipts, doctor statements, checks, and bank statements rather than throwing them in the trash or recycling bin.
- Verify the other party. Don’t give out personal information over the phone or Internet unless you know with who you are dealing with. A good way to do this is to only provide information when you are the one that has initiated the transaction.
The best way you can prevent identity theft is to minimize the amount of your personal information that is floating around. Diligence on your end makes the risk much less and precludes the need for the online $10 per month identity protection services. These services are essentially a type of insurance. If you're not going to change your habits and protect your information or are not able to sleep at night due to concern over identity theft, consider signing up for a service.